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RTPI's centenary report praises planning innovation

22 December 2014

Planning chiefs celebrate innovation in their centenary year, but warn that further cost cutting could jeopardise economic growth, major housing and infrastructure development.

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has launched a major new report celebrating planning innovation to commemorate the professional body’s centenary year.

It has highlighted a dozen examplars of modern planning across England and Scotland and called for a greater focus on devolving powers to cities.

Success and Innovation in Planning backs the Coalition’s localism agenda but says it’s being held back by a lack of resources. Local authorities need more power if they are to help regenerate Britain’s towns and cities, the RTPI believes.

The RTPI represents 23,000 planners working in the public, private, charitable and education sectors in its centenary year. It aims to find the key ingredients to transform places through innovative planning. Research behind the report was conducted by Newcastle University’s Global Urban Research Unit who asked a panel of 100 planning experts from across the UK to nominated standout examples of planning success.

The case studies show the examples that can be a model for local innovation and creativity. According to the RTPI’s centenary poll, there is an overwhelming majority of people (79%) who want a bigger say over the development of their communities.

Planning has a central role to play in shaping communities: from resolving employment, transport and housing issues, to health and environmental challenges. But these things cannot be managed without effective resources and above all, without the Treasury taking a long term view and recognising that if we want more homes, more infrastructure and stronger growth, we need people with relevant skills and expertise in our planning departments to make these things a reality.

Each of the case studies highlighted in the report outline the critical factors for planning which continuity of vision and leadership, community engagement, holistic thinking and continuity of resources.

Without the necessary resources, the RTPI warns, there cannot be the vision and leadership required for long-term strategic planning to deliver the infrastructure, environmental benefits and housing areas need to grow and thrive. The challenge for government is to deliver in an on-going climate of austerity.

Cath Ranson, President of the RTPI said:

“This report is a celebration of innovation and creativity in planning but it also serves to underline the key role planning plays at the heart of communities and, crucially, our economy. Everyone appreciates the tough decisions that politicians have to take, but planning has to be viewed in the long term and appreciated as an investment. Planning has borne the brunt of some of the harshest cuts in council spending and this is damaging planning departments’ abilities to retain skilled staff and deal effectively with the complex challenges posed by modern development. Planning has a central role to play in shaping communities: from resolving employment, transport and housing issues, to health and environmental challenges. But these things cannot be managed without effective resources and above all, without the Treasury taking a long term view and recognising that if we want more homes, more infrastructure and stronger growth, we need people with relevant skills and expertise in our planning departments to make these things a reality.

“All of the projects selected were standout successes and local communities can be proud of their own achievements in bringing these about, as well as proud of their local council planning teams.”

Planning can be thought of as a barrier, but this new report shows how places have been truly transformed through the planning process. Standout case studies selected by experts for the report include:

The redevelopment of Lea Valley for the London Olympic and Paralympic Games was praised for having equal focus on its long-term legacy as well as for the Games themselves and also for its multi-agency coordination, which should be a model for future schemes according to the RTPI Report.

Bristol City Council’s localism agenda delivered a radical approach, turning the planning system on its head and allowing planning to be influenced from the bottom up via its Neighbourhood Planning Network and drawing on the distinctive and vibrant civic culture.

Greater Manchester sets the example for culturally-led regeneration. In Salford Quays the catalyst for turnaround was as the new home for the Lowry collection and later the Imperial War Museum North serving as ‘cultural anchors’ for the area, while the new lifting footbridge improved connectivity. The relocation of parts of the BBC to the new Media City Salford development cemented the Quay’s new position as a cultural hub. In Manchester city centre the cultural regeneration focused around popular music attracting students and purpose-built accommodation, driving the city’s development forward together with the remodeling of the Corn Exchange.

In Newcastle, the Grainger Town Partnership delivered conservation-led regeneration of Newcastle City Centre, conserving local architecture, but thinking about how this could drive the local economy. At the same time local engagement was critical in inspiring confidence across the community.

The regeneration of Gateshead Quays highlights the importance of a long-term, flexible yet inspiring vision that was embraced by many agencies in the area.

Newhall, Essex a new garden city development on the edge of Harlow, offers useful lessons such as having a strong design ethos, using different developers and architects to bring a series of strong and distinctive architectural types and the creation of a mixture of live/work units and commercial spaces on the ground floor of residential buildings along the main road. The landowners also took an active interest in the planning and development of the site.

TAYPlan Eastern Scotland is a good model for city-regions across the UK. A statutory plan covering a large part of eastern Scotland, encompassing four local authority areas and over half a million people, the TAYPlan plan sets a framework to provide certainty for local residents, decision-makers and investors. While it’s an ambitious plan, at its heart are eight policies derived from a single proposals map. As a result, the Plan is easily accessible to the whole community.

Hadrian’s Wall Plan. Hadrian’s Wall runs for 84 miles coast to coast across the north of England. The scale of the site and the diversity of its surroundings make managing this World Heritage Site a challenge. The opportunity was to consider the whole wall and its setting and to go beyond managing only its archeology and the physical structure. The whole process was lead with a strong and trusted steering group.

You can find the report on the RTPI website here